When the Minnesota Vikings signed the clearly-past-his-prime, kind-of-bad cornerback Patrick Peterson away from the Arizona Cardinals before last season, a lot of talking heads in the NFL mediasphere labeled it an “overpay” or a “C- grade.” This past week, as a 32 year-old, he led the Vikings’ defense in their Week 6 win against the Miami Dolphins. Where did this grizzled veteran get his start, how did he become one of the best cornerbacks in the league at one point, and how did he end shipping north?
Mr. Big Shot
Peterson was a consensus five-star recruit by every recruiting platform, and considered the eighth and fifth best player in high school football by ESPN and Rivals.com, respectively. Peterson would take his talents to the bayou, attending LSU. In his college career, he racked up over 100 tackles and snagged seven interceptions. The quantity of interceptions wasn’t the most intriguing stat, though. It was the yards gained on his return. On those seven picks, Peterson carried the ball 171 yards, nearly 25 yards per interception run-back. This leads into the second side of his game; returning kicks. He only did so for his final season at LSU, but the point had been made. NFL scouts now saw his agility, size, and speed on full display. After the season, he took home first team all-SEC and unanimous first-team All-American honors. With this rock-solid repertoire, many predicted that Peterson would be a top-five pick, and they were absolutely right.
The Building of a Legacy
The Arizona Cardinals took Peterson fifth overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and he immediately made his presence felt. In his first game, the season opener, he returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown that would end up winning Arizona the game. Later in the season, Peterson would return a punt 99 yards for a touchdown, which is tied for second for the longest punt return in history. He also tied the single-season record for punt return touchdowns with four, and became the first player to ever return four punts for over 80 yards. That efficiency would continue for years after, seen in Peterson’s eight year streak of consecutive Pro Bowl appearances, which was only broken by a violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug rules in 2019. In his time with the Cardinals, he would rack up three first team All-Pro’s, as well as being named to the NFL’s “2010’s All-Decade Team.”
Who Gets Old and Moves North?
After going through the motions of professional football, any and everyone will slow down eventually. Patrick Peterson wasn’t the least bit immune to this, garnering a “burnt toast” reputation among Cardinals fans for his decline in play. The calls of overcooked wheat grew even louder once Arizona made it known that they weren’t extending the Cardinal legend. There was, however, a team in desperate need of any and all defensive pieces. Minnesota came knocking with a one year, $8 million offer. With not a ton of competition, and an appealing role of being a defensive mentor with Harrison Smith in the Vikings’ secondary, he signed the bottom line and officially left the southwest. His first season wasn’t exactly perfect, starting six games before a hamstring injury landed him on Injured Reserve. This was the first time Peterson missed games due to injury. He came back three games later and played out his first season in purple with nothing else major to note. In terms of stats, obviously there was a bit of a downswing, And yet, he still set a career high in tackle assists and interception return yards in a season (given, the yards all came from one interception he ran 66 yards for a touchdown). Through six games in our current season, he already has more passes defended and as many interceptions as last year. At this point, the one year, $4 million extension we signed him to this past offseason is looking like a complete steal. I’m excited to see if he keeps this pace throughout the whole season, and if he can show just how much he has left in the tank.